Wednesday, November 5, 2014

America, America Part One

Hi there. Long time, no see. I'm coming to you from miles and miles away from my dining table in the South of France. I've still got the table (it was shipped over with the rest of our worldy goods) and we're all five still eating dinner on it nightly and saying 'bon appetit' before food gets from plate to hungry mouth. This is a tradition we're all trying not to lose. In case you've been wondering, here's a snippet of what we've been up to over the past months.

It’s been five months since we said goodbye to France. Five months in which to get settled, find a house, start school, choose after-school activities, and introduce America to my little immigrants. 

{American-style awesome}

A friend of mine who is raising half-American, half-French children in France recently posted an article on the hidden immigrant child; children who don’t seem different from their national peers on the surface, but who have a rich history of different cultures, social mores, language, and mannerisms buried deep in their souls. My children have that, are those little immigrants.

They’re not immigrants in the sense of the little Malaysian girl I met while having lunch with the Littlest at school today, nor are they immigrants like the family who just moved with three children from Mumbai after a lifetime of their father shuttling back and forth between the US and India.
No, they’re Americans by passport, birth right, and tangled genetic history. They look like everyone else here, speak the language without an accent (well, not much of one anyway), and have flipped the colloquial switch to say things like soccer and garbage and AWESOME! with very little effort at all. The Littlest maintains his diversity by proudly telling any and every one he was born in Ireland but that his brother and sister were born in Austin.

The Pledge of Allegiance is something we do at school here. It’s like learning to tie your shoes; every American child learns it, but no one can remember how or when. In my experience, it is a singularly American thing. A few simple words strung together 122 years ago to celebrate Christopher Columbus’ discovery. There have been a few alterations and additions (the ‘under God’ part) over the years and questions arise about fealty and national pride, indoctrination and patriotism. In Ireland, the Catholic public schools have the kids learn prayers before eating lunch, and later the catechism for their Holy Communion and that comes close. French children learn poems and songs weekly, and La Marseillaise with its armed citizens and impure blood running in the fields is sung by even the smallest school child.

My children weren’t here to learn the pledge and so were at a loss when it came time to stand, hand over heart, looking at the flag hanging above the bulletin or black board and recite it. I’d tried a few times to teach it to them while we were away, but like everything, without context or necessity things don’t stick. Kids won’t learn to tie their shoes as long as they wear Velcro. 

The first week of school, my little Americans were perplexed by this uniquely American ritual. ‘What is the thing everyone says?’ ‘How does it go?’ Now we had context. Paul and I went into pledge mode and recited it in unison, hands on hearts (me with a typical tear in my eye. What’s wrong with me?).

Texas ups the ante by throwing in the Texas Pledge right after and so we all learned that one together too. The Middlest said that he’d gotten by all that first week by repeating, ‘America, America’ over and over the whole time and then the same again with ‘Texas, Texas’. My kids are immigrants in disguise; card-carrying Americans just learning how to fit in and doing an improvisational, resilient, awesome job of it. 

They all know it now. The Texas one too. Of course they do.